Monday, September 26, 2016

"The Outsiders" by S. E. Hinton

I first read The Outsiders when I was fourteen, same age as the protagonist, Ponyboy.  I had known that I led a safe, sheltered life, but it wasn't until I read this book that I truly realized how different my life was from what it could be.  It's one of the first books I can remember reading that felt very real to me, not like a made-up story.   I didn't learn until many years later that this was inspired by actual events, but somehow it has always felt real, right from the first reading.

Ponyboy Curtis lives with his older brothers Soda and Darry -- their parents died in an accident eight months earlier.  They live on the poor side of town (Tulsa, Oklahoma, though the book never explicitly states that) and are called "greasers" because they grease their hair back.  Basically, they're hoods, only they don't consider themselves to be.  They and their friends look out for each other, but don't have an actual gang.  But they constantly battle the "socs," who are the rich kids from the other side of town.  

Late one night, a bunch of socs jump Ponyboy and his friend Johnny.  They try to drown Ponyboy, and Johnny knifes a soc to save his friend.  The two boys run away so Johnny won't have to go to jail and so the social workers won't make Ponyboy go live in a foster home instead of staying with his older brothers.  They end up labeled heroes for rescuing some children, and then there's all this tragedy, and... yeah, it's an emotional rollercoaster.  Eva called it "breathtaking," and it is all of that.

Even now, reading this for the umpteenth time, I'm amazed by how realistic these characters feel.  I've read a lot of YA novels, a lot of books about juvenile delinquents, and a lot of books written by fairly young writers, but none of them have matched this book for capturing how teens think and feel.   I am perpetually fascinated by the way it presents a gritty, raw world without using shocking language or rubbing our noses in filth.  And yet, it also doesn't try to idealize the characters -- none of them are innocent or to be pitied.   Hinton doesn't want us to feel sorry for Ponyboy, or for Johnny or Dally, either.  She wants us to try to understand them. And that's what I love best about The Outsiders -- that it helps me understand a little bit about how people live and think, people who are very different from myself and live in very different circumstances. I may never meet someone who has lived a life as hard and painful as Ponyboy's, but this book helps me understand him a little bit even so.

I've probably read The Outsiders close to twenty times in the past twenty years.  I remember I read it three times in a row when I first discovered it.  I still have that same copy, which someone had given to me after they were through reading it for high school.  It had their name on the sides in black marker, and after I finished my first reading of it, I found a black marker and made all the edges of the pages black so that their name was completely obliterated.  I had a great need to make my copy mine alone.  Then I censored out the three (very tame) bad words in it and read it over and over.  When my brother was old enough, I let him read it too.  Every time we had a birthday, we'd talk about which character we were the same age as.  When I turned twenty-one and was older than Darry, I was glum.  My gift to my brother when he turned fourteen was his very own copy of the book.  We also watched the excellent 1983 film adaptation many, many times, and I recently replaced my almost-worn-out VHS copy with a DVD.  

So, um, yeah, this is one of my favorite books ever, and I expect it always will be.


Particularly Good Bits:

I lie to myself all the time.  But I never believe me (p. 19).

"You greasers have a different set of values.  You're more emotional.  We're sophisticated -- cool to the point of not feeling anything.  Nothing is for real with us (p. 35).

Tow-headed and shifty-eyed, Dally was anything but handsome.  Yet in his hard face there was character, pride, and a savage defiance of the world (p. 54).

I liked my books and clouds and sunsets.  Dally was so real he scared me (p. 68).

I wish I could say that everything went back to normal, but it didn't.  Especially me (p. 146).


If This a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for violence, teen drinking and smoking, and three minor curse words.



This is my 46th book read and reviewed for the Classics Club, and my 15th for the Women's Classic Literature Event.

19 comments:

  1. I've never read this or seen the movie. It never crossed my path and never seemed like something I would like, but perhaps I'll need to try it at some point?

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    1. How odd! Because this rather seems like something you would dig -- the fierce, honorable characters up against impossible odds, trying to protect each other and drawing strength from their "found family" (oh yes, oh yes, that's a big reason I love this book).

      It's really short, so even if you ended up not loving it, it's not like you'd have wasted weeks on it.

      The movie is excellent, a very faithful adaptation that rounds out a few minor characters and helps sharpen the story's focus just a smidge.

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    2. I think it's the teenager thing that probably turned me off. I have probably missed a ton of famous YA books.

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    3. These are not dumb and angsty teens. They are people with serious problems that happen to be teenaged.

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    4. LOL, that's not exactly a selling point for someone like me!

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    5. Wait, you would rather read about dumb, angsty teens than about people with serious problems like manslaughter???

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    6. LOL, no, neither sounds appealing. But I read books to escape life, so serious problem isn't usually aligned with my reading goals.

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  2. I watched the movie in a high school English class, but all I really remember is the names of the characters. I've held a vague distaste for the story ever since, because it was presented to us in a unit on "loss of innocence" and I got really sick of the cynical, gritty bent of so many of those stories. You've made me think that teenage me was mistaken--the books sounds very intriguing, and it's definitely going on my reading list.

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    1. Ashley, really? Loss of innocence? Gah!!! What a misreading! I mean, there is a conversation between Cherry and Ponyboy where they actually discuss the fact that Pony and Johnny are NOT young and innocent. Ponyboy doesn't lose his innocence, he gets his worldview broadened. Big difference.

      And it's not a cynical book, though it's certainly gritty. But it ends with a great deal of hope for the future. Though of course, some characters do die.

      I look forward to hearing what you think of it upon rereading!

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  3. I only just hear of this book from eva at Coffee, Classics and Craziness. Actually, I was noticed her pins about the movie and then decided to read the book while I was waiting my turn at the library (still waiting!!!!!). It's so different from what I usually read, but still with the thread of honor in the fighting and violence (like in Sutcliffe novels).

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    1. Livia, yes, you could put these characters in a medieval setting, or a western, or I don't know... bombed-out wartime London in the '40s, and their story would resonate just as well, I think. The fact that they're poor kids in the '60s is just trimmings, not what the book is all about. Hope it comes in at the library for you soon! Let me know what you think of it when you do read it.

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  4. I recently finished reading this aloud to Elisabeth and Rebekah (Elisabeth had already read it, but it was new to Rebekah). We had a lot of fun with it (mostly me, I think, because I loved doing all the voices). Now we all want to see the movie again. (Well, Bekah's never seen it before.)

    Really enjoyed your review. :) I don't pity any of the characters, but I can't help but want to hug Johnny. </3 (And Ponyboy, too, because when it comes right down to it, he's been through so much and he's still the youngest of them all.)

    I think I'm the same age as Two-Bit now? I'm not sure.

    I wish I could watch the movie whenever I wanted and didn't have to wait until I get a chance to see it on Vidangel. *sigh* At least they chose to filter the director's cut and not the chopped-up theatrical release. :)

    ~Eva

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    1. Just thought about it and, yes, I am the same age as Two-Bit. (I knew that already, actually. Just wasn't thinking.) I don't think anyone in the gang is nineteen, though.

      ~Eva

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    2. Awwww, how cool that you're Two-Bit's age!

      I want to hug ALL the characters. But especially Ponyboy and Dally and Darry and Johnny.

      But wait... there are two different versions??? How long is this "director's cut" -- is it 91 minutes? That's the only version I've ever seen.

      ::Searches Amazon:: OH! Okay, I need to buy this. This is the sort of movie I will probably want to have BOTH versions of.

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    3. Just looked up director's cut; I guess I will be buying it and not waiting for the library . . . that seems like really significant changes.

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    4. I've never seen the extended version, so I'm intrigued to see what they added back in. I'm not always a fan of "director's cuts" and "extended editions" because a lot of time, the theatrical release was better -- tighter, more coherent, less... egotistical. But sometimes, they can be better, or even quite a different film from the theatrical, so I'm giving it a try.

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    5. Wow! I'm surprised that you'd never even heard of the extended version. :) When I watched it, it did seem a little incoherent at times (as in, if I hadn't read the book, I probably wouldn't have understood/liked it as much). I think the biggest scene they added in, from what I can tell, is Soda running out of the house after Darry and Ponyboy have a fight. Anyway, the extended version is about half an hour longer. :)

      ~Eva

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    6. Well, this extended version was released in 2005, about ten years after I'd gotten into the movie. I was married and working, and just didn't hear about it, I guess.

      Mostly I'm excited about the commentary by so many members of the cast :-9

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